House Democrats are kicking off the new year by addressing climate change head-on with a new committee, but it’s not all smooth sailing yet.
California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to become the next speaker of the House, has announced that Democrats plan to form the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis when the party majority retakes the House of Representatives in January. The committee will be chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida, who currently serves as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
According to Pelosi, the panel will be formed in response to the American public’s demand for action on climate change. “This committee will be critical to the entire Congress’s mission to respond to the urgency of this threat while creating the good-paying, green jobs of the future,” she said in her announcement.
But when it comes to responding to the threat of climate change, some Democrats do not believe the committee’s creation is decisive enough. Left-leaning activists and incoming representatives, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have pushed for Congress to embrace the Green New Deal: an ambitious climate change policy that calls for cutting U.S. carbon emissions fast enough to keep the earth from warming no more than 2.7 degrees by 2100. According to The Atlantic, that would require major moves to cut the country’s current carbon emissions in half by 2030. In doing so, the plan would theoretically also create new jobs in renewable energy, including manufacturing solar, wind, and electric alternatives. Championed by progressives such as Ocasio-Cortez, the Green New Deal is a response to concerning reports detailing major threats from climate change in the near future, including a major United Nations investigation that outlined international risks we could see as early as 2040.
One key first step for the Green New Deal would be the formation of a respective committee. But it does not appear that the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will have the power to introduce and enact the reforms outlined in the Green New Deal. The Hill reports that the panel probably won’t have subpoena power, nor will it have the ability to draft legislation and pass bills to the House floor for a full vote.
Supporters of the Green New Deal and more progressive action on climate change are thus far unimpressed. “This committee...sounds about as useful as a screen door on a submarine,” a spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez told The Hill. “As it’s portrayed it’s going to be completely incapable of solving the greatest threat to humankind.”
Another controversial sticking point was Castor’s refusal to require all members of the committee to reject political contributions from oil and gas companies, which activists have called for. While she recently announced her intention to reject donations from fossil fuel companies herself, per The Hill, Castor has said creating a mandate for other committee members would violate the First Amendment. Ocasio-Cortez criticized Castor’s logic on Twitter, writing, “Loading a climate committee w/ fossil fuel [money bag emoji] is akin to letting foxes in the henhouse.”
We don’t have time to sit on our hands as our planet burns.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 20, 2018
For young people, climate change is bigger than election or re-election. It’s life or death.
Loading a climate committee w/ fossil fuel💰 is akin to letting foxes in the henhouse.
We shouldn’t be afraid to lead. https://t.co/JhqV2s2EVB
The new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is a revival of a previous climate-focused panel: the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was created in 2007 and dismantled by Republicans in 2010. Although that panel did have subpoena power, it had a similarly narrow mandate as the new committee and also lacked legislative authority.